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Axis Deer threaten native birds on Hawaii's Big Island

Posted on 13. July, 2011.

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A coalition of resource managers on Hawaii Island have confirmed the presence of a new threat to the island’s biodiversity – introduced axis.

The deer, which can reach up to 250 lb, were first introduced to several other Hawaiian islands between 1868 and 1959. Historically, they were not introduced to the island of Hawaii, and their confirmed presence on that island has grave implications for the island’s farmers and ranchers, public health, watersheds, and native ecosystems and species. Axis deer have caused extensive problems on Maui where more than 12,000 roam, wandering onto ranch land and farmland, and into urban areas resulting in millions of dollars in damages to crops, trees and bird habitat.

Conservation agencies are particularly concerned about the impact to native ecosystems and the numerous threatened and endangered species they contain. If deer become established, existing conservation enclosure fences on the island will have to be raised to eight feet.

George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Oceans and Islands says, “I hope that this problem can be solved before we have to retrofit more than 300 miles of fences as that will cost tens of millions of dollars and jeopardise years of work to rid ungulates from several areas of critical importance for birds.”

For example, the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, a key area for the endangered Akiapōlā'au, Ākepa, and Hawai‘i Creeper, has been largely cleared of feral pigs, making large-scale reforestation possible. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park was a national leader in using fences to remove goats to protect their endangered plants and animals. DOFAW is currently constructing a fence around Palila Critical Habitat on Mauna Kea with the objective of eradicating mouflon-sheep hybrids that severely damage the māmane forests on which Palila depend. In all these cases, the establishment of axis deer will have a substantial negative impact on conservation efforts.

In picture: Akiapōlā'au. Photo courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

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